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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 April, 2005, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
Meeting 'Kenya's Terri Schiavo'
By Muliro Telewa
BBC, Nairobi

Wanjiru and her husband
Wanjiru's husband cannot imagine letting her die
The court case over the life and death of American Terri Schiavo which made headlines all over the world has led to parallels being drawn with a patient in Kenya.

Wanjiru Kihoro has been bed-ridden and barely conscious in a Nairobi hospital for more than two years.

But while Schiavo's husband, Michael, went to court to secure his wife's right to die, Dr Kihoro's husband and relatives are unanimous that she should live.

Schiavo spent more than 15 years in a vegetative condition, being fed through a tube in a Florida hospice.

A court ruling permitted her husband to remove the feeding tube, which led to her death on 31 March.

Mrs Kihoro is also being fed through a tube and is on a life-support machine in Nairobi's Kenyatta National Hospital.

Crash

Her husband, lawyer Wanyiri Kihoro, has spent more than two years looking after her and says he has no plans to switch off the machine.

Mrs Kihoro, who is in her 50s, is a renowned economist who spent more than 20 years in the UK, where she completed her PhD at the University of Leeds.

File photo of Terri Schiavo
Mrs Schiavo was at the centre of a seven-year legal battle in the US
In January 2003, she was aboard a plane carrying several senior government officials who were heading to Nairobi from Western Kenya. The plane crashed, and one minister and two pilots died.

Mrs Kihoro suffered head injuries that left her in a coma from which she has never recovered.

In the private wing of her Intensive Care Unit (ICU) ward at Kenyatta National Hospital, Mrs Kihoro is fed through a tube in the nose, while air is pumped into her weak lungs through a bigger tube passing through a hole in the throat.

Mr Kihoro tells me his wife responds to his communication and he believes they have developed their own language.

"She would open and shut her eyes when I request her to do so."

Will he eventually remove the tubes if it becomes apparent that she may never regain consciousness, as Schiavo's husband decided to do?

"What is happening in America for me is totally unimaginable," Mr Kihoro says.

"That you can come to that position, that you can stop feeding your wife so that she can die... to me that is unacceptable and I do not want to imagine that it will happen."

Open

Mr Kihoro spoke lovingly to his wife, touching her face. Anyone who overheard him would have thought the lady was wide awake.

When I mentioned that I would have liked to take a photograph of her with her eyes open, Mr Kihoro told me what I thought was impossible.

Wanjiru
Wanjiru is able to open her eyes

"Don't worry, I will tell her to open her eyes," he assured me, and began talking to his wife: "Wanjiru... Wanjiru... honey... please open your eyes, we want to take a picture of you with your eyes open."

I was just about to pack away my camera, not believing that she would open her eyes, and then she did.

Amazed, I took two pictures. Mr Kihoro noticed this and asked me:

"Look at her - doesn't she look beautiful? Is this the lady that people think I should remove her air and food tubes? That is a joke."

Future

Another difference between Terri Schiavo and Wanjiru Kihoro was that unlike Terri's husband, Michael Schiavo - who battled with his parents-in-law over whether Terri should have continued to live in her condition or not - Wanyiri Kihoro is in perfect agreement with his in-laws that Wanjiru's life should not be terminated.

"Don't even mention it," says Onesmus Matenjwa, Wanjiru's father.

If there is no suit the patient would be on the machine for as long as it takes
Dr James Nyikal

"That [decision] is God's will and not man's."

Following the international debate on the fate of Terri Schiavo, some Kenyans are now wondering aloud whether Mrs Kihoro will ever recover, and whether she should remain on life-support as long as Schiavo did.

Catherine Chebet, a Nairobi University student, says: "I think Dr Kihoro should be given 15 years like Terri. After that then the family should decide if they should pull the plug and let her rest."

Nairobi resident John Kitui, 21, said Kenyans should not even bother comparing Dr Kihoro's situation with Mrs Schiavo's.

"Wanjiru should be allowed to live as long as God wishes her to live and I consider it a sin for anybody who removes the tubes feeding her," he said.

Prayers

The leader of the Catholic Church in Kenya, Nairobi Archbishop Ndingi Mwana A' Nzeki, says he had been praying for both Schiavo and Mrs Kihoro. He says that when all else fails, families in such situations should pray for a miracle.

"Everybody has a right to life and nobody has any right to take anybody's life. I can only pray that God will give Wanjiru strength," he said.

He added that any decision to terminate a life should be made after prayer "and with a clear conscience - nobody should stop the machines with the sole purpose of ending life."

Soon after the accident in January 2003, the government booked her into one of the most prestigious and expensive hospitals in Nairobi, but seven months ago she was moved to the public Kenyatta National Hospital, which is cheaper.

In Kenya a person is considered dead only after their heart stops; euthanasia is a crime.

The Director of Medical Services, Dr James Nyikal, says the decision to remove a patient from a machine, even if they were to be declared brain dead, would eventually be made by the court, if a relative of the patient filed a suit.

"If there is no suit the patient would be on the machine for as long as it takes," Dr Nyikal said.




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